Dear Mr. Hess:
Our class is studying Polar Lands (Mrs. Schenck's class). We were wondering if you would write back and answer our questions. What are you studying? What is your daily routine? What animals have you seen? How cold is it now? How deep is the snow? Why are there only certain times when a person can come and go from Antarctica?
Mrs. Schenck's class
I am working for ATSC, a NASA contractor, tracking satellites. The data we capture is being used by the University of Alaska to map the movement of the ice in Antarctica. We are not doing research, but gathering the raw data for the research.
My normal daily routine starts at 6AM. I must change tapes, schedule supports in a computer, keep records, and write reports. My average day is about 10 hours. Things are always breaking, and we must fix them to keep things running. This adds to my work schedule. We also have performance testing. This week we are trying to do performance tests on a system installed during the summer. We had to come in at 5:30 this morning, and 3:30 tomorrow morning to flow data to NASA in White Sands, NM. In the summer seals and skuas were common sights. As the fall approached, the ice in McMurdo sound started breaking up. With open water, I saw whales and penguins.
The temperature has been between 0 and -20F lately. The temperatures will continue to get colder as winter approaches. The first day of winter here is in June, when it is summer in Snow Hill. It is very windy here at times, and the wind chill was below -75F last week. With a wind chill this cold, exposed skin can freeze in less than 30 seconds.
Last week we had a very calm evening, and we received about 2 inches of snow. In the morning, it was windy, and all the snow was gone. McMurdo is mostly bare volcanic rock, with a few snow drifts. Outside of town, the snow builds up and packs down into ice. The glaciers contain ice made from packed snow that is thousands of years old.
In the late summer, ships arrive with supplies and fuel for heating and vehicles. There is only a short time that ships can come into McMurdo. Planes come and go from September until February, and land on runways of ice or packed snow. In the summer, it was sunny on most days. In the last few months, there have been many storms, and the mornings are many time clear, but it clouds up during the day. It would be very difficult to keep the runways clear of loose snow, and find clear days for flying. The plane ride from New Zealand is about 2300 miles, and there are no other places to land if the weather is bad. Even in the summer, the weather can change rapidly enough, for planes to fly half way and turn back to New Zealand. If you have any more questions please write back,
David Hess NK3T